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#163

Recalling Giant Birds



                 Jace got home from work to find Tegan and Manny sitting in the living room looking worried. Adding to the weird feeling of the scene was the fact that the TV wasn’t on. And there was no music playing.

                “What’s going on?” asked Jace, untucking his aggressively green Gamefervor employee shirt. The shirts used to be t-shirts, but this was the first week of the new collared shirts and the first week of the new tuck-in policy. Jace had written a short letter to Dr. Gharum, the owner of Gamefervor, explaining point by point why a video game store shouldn’t require its employees to wear tucked-in, collared shirts, but he hadn’t received a response yet and was starting to think he never would. He’d given serious consideration to quitting, but now he was wondering if it might be possible to get used to the new shirt policies.

                Tegan and Manny looked at each other. There seemed to be some sort of non-verbal back-and-forth between them about who should answer. Then Tegan looked up at Jace from her end of the couch and said, “Dallas has amnesia.”

                “Dallas says he has amnesia,” said Manny from his end of the couch. It was weird seeing him wearing a shirt in the apartment. It added to the sense that something serious was going on.

                “What kind of amnesia?” asked Jace, kicking off his shoes without untying them. They were tied tightly enough that his socks came half way off of his feet with the shoes.

                “What do you mean?” asked Tegan. “It’s amnesia. He can’t remember anything from before he woke up from his nap a couple hours ago.”

                “He doesn’t remember his name?” asked Jace.

                “Well, now he does,” said Tegan. “But only because I told it to him when he woke up.”

                Jace looked at Manny. “You don’t think the amnesia is real?”

                Manny shrugged.

                “It’s real,” said Tegan. “Why would he fake having amnesia?”

                Jace stooped to pick up his shoes. His lower back was tight from a full shift spent standing on a hard tile floor. He walked down the apartment hallway toward his room, socks flopping. Dallas’s bedroom door was standing open so Jace stopped and poked his head in. Dallas was sitting on his bed doing something on his phone. He wore his usual bum-around-the-house uniform of a horribly abused hoodie with threads dangling off of it and his old blue Multioak High School PE shorts which only extended to the middle of his pale, virtually hairless thighs.

                “Hey, Dallas,” said Jace.

                “Hey,” said Dallas, looking up. “Who are you?”

                “It’s me,” said Jace. “I’m one of your roommates. I’m Jace.”

                “Hmm,” said Dallas, looking back down at his phone. “Hold on.”

                Jace’s phone buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out and saw that he’d just gotten a text from Dallas. “You just texted me?”

                “What does it say?” asked Dallas.

                “It says ‘this is an identity test,’” said Jace.

                “Perfect,” said Dallas. He waggled the phone at Jace. “My plan is that when people tell me who they are, I go through my phone to see if there’s a contact for that name. Then I send an identity test text, and if the person who claimed the name gets the text, then I assume they’re telling the truth. But that’s assuming no one messed with my phone while I was sleeping.”

                “How did you unlock your phone screen if you have amnesia?” asked Jace.

                Dallas picked up a scrap of paper with his other hand and waggled it next to the phone which he was also still waggling. “I found this paper in my desk that has all my passwords on it.”            

                “And that paper definitely existed before your nap?” asked Jace.

                “Well, I couldn’t have written it after the nap,” said Dallas. “I have amnesia. What is this? You think I’m lying too? Like that Marty guy?”

                “His name’s Manny,” said Jace.

                “Oh, right,” said Dallas. “Manny, that’s right. Stupid amnesia!”

                Jace continued down the hall to his room, closed the door behind him, and sat down on the edge of his bed to untie the laces on his shoes. It was much nicer to untie shoes when they weren’t on his feet. That was one thing he’d discovered since recently becoming a self-sufficient adult.

 

                An hour later, Jace was reclining on his bed and working on his video game idea, which meant that he was drawing pictures of the game’s characters in a lined notebook, writing down some of their stats beneath the drawings, and then scribbling over his work, tearing out the pages, crumpling them up, hurling them into the designated clutter corner of his room, and almost crying with frustration. It was into this emotional tumult that Dallas entered without knocking.

                “Hey,” said Dallas. “Jason, is it?”

                “Jace,” said Jace, hurriedly wiping at his eyes in case any of the wetness from his almost crying might be visible. “And if you want to come into my room, knock first.”

                “Oh,” said Dallas. “Is it customary to knock?”

                “Yes!” said Jace.

                “Sorry,” said Dallas. “With my amnesia, I’ve forgotten a lot.”

                “You forgot that it’s polite to knock before you go into a room?” asked Jace.

                “Apparently,” said Dallas. “It doesn’t sound familiar. Although I guess it makes sense.”

                “What do you want?” asked Jace. “Why did you come in here? Or did your amnesia make you forget that too?”

                “Oh, dark humor,” said Dallas. “I think I like dark humor. Do I?”

                “You’re asking me?” asked Jace.

                “Yes,” said Dallas. “From what you knew of me before today, did I like dark humor?”

                “I don’t know,” said Jace. “Yes. Will leave me alone now? I’m trying to work on something and you’re distracting me.”

                “I apologize,” said Dallas. “I don’t want my condition to be a burden to other people.”

                “Please,” said Jace. “Please. Please ask me whatever you wanted to ask me and get out.”

                “All right,” said Dallas. “Well, I wanted to check with you about something. I think a memory about you came back to me, but I wanted to check with you to see if you have the same memory.”

                “OK,” said Jace. “Tell me the memory.”

                “Sure, right,” said Dallas. “So I think I remember you and me in this big, open field. The grass is really long, but it’s bending over because it’s soaking wet. It’s raining hard and we’re wearing ponchos. So-”

                “No,” said Jace. “That never happened.”

                “Wait, hold on,” said Dallas. “That’s not the main part.”

                “I don’t need to hear the main part,” said Jace. “I’ve never been in a big field wearing ponchos with you.”

                “Maybe we didn’t wear ponchos?” asked Dallas. “Maybe my brain just added the ponchos to fill in some detail? But everything else is true?”

                “No,” said Jace. “I’ve never been in a big field with you.”

                Dallas looked at Jace like he was a difficult toddler who was amusing himself by insisting on pointing at his ear whenever he was asked to identify his nose. “You’re saying you and I have never been in a big, open field together? Not even when it was sunny?”

                “No,” said Jace. “Your memory is false.”

                “Maybe you’re just forgetting,” said Dallas. “Or maybe you’re getting some amnesia.”

                “No,” said Jace. “You’re the one with amnesia. I remember my name, I remember your name, I remember everything. I remember to knock when someone has their door shut because they probably don’t want to be interrupted.”

                “I’ll just tell you a little more of my memory,” said Dallas. “I’ll tell you the main part. So we

were trying to lure one of those giant birds down from the sky with a cow carcass so we could jump out and throw a net over it, but when the bird swooped down, it was too big for our net. What are those giant birds called?”

                “Um, an eagle?” said Jace. “A condor?”

                “No, no,” said Dallas. “The really giant ones. Those birds that are as big as, like, whales or houses or whatever.” He stopped talking and looked at Jace with what under normal circumstances Jace would have taken to be sincere hope.

                “I mean, what do you want me to say?” asked Jace.

                “If you remember that day or not,” said Dallas. “I’m obviously hoping you’ll remember it, but what I want is for you to tell me the truth.”

                “Well, it makes no sense at all,” said Jace. “Not only do I not remember it, it’s actually impossible, which I think you know.”

                “What’s impossible about it?” asked Dallas.

                “Get out,” said Jace. “I’m busy.”

                “Please,” said Dallas. “Tell me what’s impossible about the memory I described to you. Would we never have used a cow carcass to lure a giant bird? Would we have used different bait?”

                “Birds can’t be that big,” said Jace. “There, you made me say it. I walked into your trick. You’re probably loving this.”

                “That’s your issue with the memory?” asked Dallas. “But James, birds can be that big. I know that. Those kinds of bird can.”

                “You have amnesia!” shouted Jace.

                “Well, yeah,” said Dallas. “But I didn’t forget everything. I still know how to speak English. I still know how to walk. I’m not incontinent. And I remember that there are giant birds and some of them are as big as whales or houses.”

                “All right,” said Jace. “Whatever.”

                “You seriously might have some amnesia yourself,” said Dallas. “Selective amnesia about the giant birds. And who knows what else? It’s so hard to know what it is you don’t know. Trust me, I know all about that frustration. I have amnesia!”

                Jace said nothing. He glared down at the page in his open notebook on his lap. On it, Jace had drawn the head and hair of one of his video game characters. The face had no features yet.

                “I’ll try to remember what those giant birds are called,” said Dallas. “I’ll let you know if I think of it. That might help you remember them. It probably will.”

                “Great,” said Jace.

                “What are you working on?” asked Dallas.

                “My video game idea,” said Jace.

                “Oh,” said Dallas. “What’s a video game?”

               

                 Another hour passed and Jace emerged from his room having made no progress on his video game idea at all. Were his ideas bad? Or was he just bad at drawing his ideas? Whichever it was, they were both fatal flaws which could very easily prevent his video game idea from ever becoming an actual video game, a thought that was almost too sad to bear. Jace went through the kitchen and out the back door to stand on the deck and smoke a cigarette. Manny and Tegan were already out there but they weren’t smoking because neither of them smoked. They had their coats on and their cheeks were red like they’d been outside in the cold air for a while.

                “What are you guys doing out here?” asked Jace. He wore slippers but hadn’t put on a coat.

                “We were just talking about Dallas,” said Tegan.

                “Where is he now?” asked Jace.

                “His parents came from Dalcette,” said Tegan. “They took him somewhere.”

                “To a doctor?” asked Jace. “Like, the emergency room?”

                “I don’t know,” said Tegan. “I don’t think so.”

                Jace swiveled his slippered feet on the deck’s ice-encrusted surface. He accidentally dropped his cigarette over the edge of the deck. It fell two stories down to the ground and hissed when it hit the snow, which wasn’t even deep enough to conceal the tips of the blades of grass. “I’ll pick it up tomorrow,” said Jace, not knowing if Tegan would be offended by him not immediately going downstairs to retrieve the fallen cigarette. She seemed like someone who might be very strict about littering.

                “Did Dallas talk to you earlier?” asked Manny.

                “Yeah,” said Jace, lighting one of his three remaining cigarettes. “He came into my room without knocking while I was trying to work. He was driving me crazy.”

                “What did he say?” asked Manny.

                “Nothing,” said Jace. “It took him forever to get around to it. He wanted to tell me some made-up story which he claimed he thought was a memory, but it was crazy.”

                “He did the same thing to me,” said Manny.

                “What was yours?” asked Jace.

                “Don’t make fun of him, guys,” said Tegan. “Manny, you were just telling me how serious you think all this is and now you’re making fun of him with Jace.”

                “We’re not making fun of him,” said Manny. “We’re just comparing notes. If we actually share stuff with each other, maybe we can figure out what’s going on with him.”

                “So what did he say?” asked Jace. He now wished he had worn a coat.

                Manny looked as if he were being extra careful not to smile or sound amused. “OK, so he told me he thought he remembered something that involved me and he wanted to run it by me to see if it was a real memory. So I said, yeah, sure, because I thought maybe this was progress and his memory was coming back even though he’d started the conversation by calling me ‘Mugsy.’ So then he said he had this memory of us on a boat, so I knew right away it wasn’t a real memory because I’ve never been on a boat with him, but then he went on to say that we were on this boat because we were pursuing some kind of giant bird. He couldn’t remember what the kind of bird was called, but he said the boat was rocking a lot because the waves were choppy and we both got seasick. And then he said one of those giant birds swooped down and capsized the ship. I asked him how big the bird was because I’d assumed we were talking about, like, a pelican or something, but when he said it capsized the ship I kind of realized he meant a really giant bird, and yeah, he said it was the size of a truck or a dinosaur.”

                Jace laughed. He didn’t care if he offended Tegan. He wasn’t trying to get an angle on being Tegan’s new boyfriend in case Dallas’s amnesia torpedoed their relationship whereas it seemed like Manny maybe was. “The giant bird was in the ‘memory’ he told me too,” said Jace. “I guess we tried to bait it with a cow carcass and catch it with a net.”

                “That’s so weird,” said Manny.

                “Do you still think he’s faking it?” asked Jace.

                “If so, he’s really committing,” said Manny. “Which, you know, isn’t really in his character.” He did an admirable job of not casting a significant look at Tegan as he said it.

                “The giant bird things seem prankish,” said Jace. “Prankish? Pranky? Prank-like?”

                “Prankesque?” said Manny.

                “You guys have no compassion for your friend,” said Tegan. “Dallas is your friend.

                “Did Dallas mention a memory with giant bird in it to you?” asked Jace.

                Tegan blushed in the yellow glow of the outside light. The true pinkness of her blushing cheeks in the yellow light made her cheeks appear to be a shade of orange.

                “So he did,” said Jace. “Every ‘memory’ that comes back to him has a giant bird in it. He’s probably remembering seeing giant birds on family vacations when he was a kid with his parents right now.”

                “What do you think it is?” asked Tegan. “Do you think it’s a bad sign?”

                “Do I think what’s a bad sign?” asked Jace. “That Dallas’s missing memories are being replaced with ‘memories’ of giant birds that don’t exist? Yes, I think that’s a bad sign.”

                Jace went back to his room and closed the door. He sat down on his bed and picked up a notebook. He drew a bird. He drew some tiny stick figures next to it in order to show that the bird was giant. But instead of making the bird look giant, the drawing just made it look like tiny people were standing near a normal-sized bird. Or even worse, that very tiny people were standing next to a bird that was actually smaller than average. Jace scribbled over the drawing, tore it out of his notebook, crumpled it into a pitiful wad, and flung it into his clutter corner where it would soon, he assumed, disappear beneath many other wads of inadequacy.

 

                Jace woke up to the sound of someone knocking on his door. It was almost 3 in the morning. He had fallen asleep with his beside light on.

                “Who is it?” asked Jace.

                The answer was too quiet to hear, but it sounded like Tegan’s voice, so Jace said, “Come in.” He stayed mostly reclined in his bed with his covers around his shoulders in order to keep his unattractive upper torso concealed.

                Tegan came into the room and closed the door behind her. She wore Dallas’s sweatpants with the drawstrings cinched tight around her waist and a peach-colored sweater that Jace would not have chosen to sleep in even if it fit him, although this particular sweater would definitely not fit him.

                “What’s wrong?” asked Jace. “Did Dallas ever come back?”

                “No,” said Tegan. “I never heard from him after his parents picked him up. He didn’t respond to my texts or answer my calls.”

                “His parents probably took him home,” said Jace. “I’m sure they’re worried. They just want to keep an eye on him.”

                “Yeah,” said Tegan. “That’s what I thought.”

                “Well, good night,” said Jace.

                “No, that’s not why I came in here,” said Tegan. “It’s about something else.”

                “Oh, OK,” said Jace. “What is it?” He was worried. He didn’t want to give relationship advice. He really hoped this wasn’t about her developing feelings for Manny or something.

                “Well, I was in the living room on the couch,” said Tegan. “But I couldn’t sleep. I was just lying there awake in the dark.”

                “Understandable,” said Jace. “You’re stressed.”

                “Yeah,” said Tegan. “But I’m telling you that so you don’t tell me I was asleep.”

                “OK, you were awake,” said Jace.

                “And I didn’t want to think about Dallas anymore,” said Tegan. “I just wanted to give my brain a break from thinking about him and his amnesia and what’s going to happen to him and me. So I was just thinking about, like, when I was a kid. I was remembering my favorite birthday parties and vacations and family reunions. All that kind of stuff, celebrations and holidays. And I was thinking about this one skiing vacation we took. I was trying to learn to ski, but I kept falling down, and I got so frustrated I said I was going to switch to snowboarding. And everyone told me snowboarding was even harder, but I don’t know, I was watching the snowboarders and what they were doing just made so much more sense to me. So I headed to the lodge to trade in my skis and rent a snowboard instead…”

                Tegan trailed off. Jace wondered if she’d noticed him struggling to keep his eyes open. But who would really blame him for falling asleep in his own bed at 3 in the morning while someone told a very boring story in a soothing voice?

                “So as I was walking through the snow toward the lodge…” Tegan paused again. Then she took a long breath and said, “I was walking toward the lodge and a giant bird swooped down from the sky and tried to grab somebody off of one of the ski lifts. It missed, but the person fell and…and the ski resort shut down all their runs for the rest of the day, so I didn’t get to try snowboarding.”

                “Um,” said Jace. “What kind of bird?”

                “I can almost remember the name,” said Tegan. “But not quite.”

                “And how big was it?” asked Jace.

                Tegan looked thoughtful. “I mean, the way I remember it…the bird was about the size of a private plane?”

                “Maybe it was a private plane?” said Jace.

                “No,” said Tegan. “It was a bird. It’s called a…a…gah, it’s so frustrating. I know there’s a name for that kind of bird. I feel like you’ll recognize it when you hear it.”

                “So, wait,” said Jace. “Are you really saying you think the giant bird was real? That all of that really happened?”

                “I remember it!” said Tegan. “We have family pictures from that trip.”

                “But is the bird in the pictures?” asked Jace.

                “No,” said Tegan. “But the trip was real. I know it was. I remember the hotel room, I remember the pizza place we ate at every night, I remember my brother falling on the slopes and saying he thought he’d broken his arm and I told him that if he wasn’t crying, then his arm definitely wasn’t broken so he started crying, but it still turned out that there was nothing wrong with his arm, barely even a bruise. And the memory of the giant bird feels like it’s made out of the same stuff as all those other memories.”

                “All right,” said Jace. “Well, OK. But it can’t be real because there are no birds that big.”

                “That’s what I said to Dallas too,” said Tegan. “But then I remembered that there are.

                “No, there aren’t,” said Jace. “You just want to believe that Dallas’s memory is coming back. You want it so bad that your brain is making up memories to corroborate the weird stuff that Dallas’s brain is doing to make up for his lost memories.”

                “No,” said Tegan. “It doesn’t feel like that’s what’s happening at all.”

                “So why did you wake me up?” asked Jace. “If you’ve already decided the giant bird was real, why ask me about it?”

                “I’m not asking you,” said Tegan. “I’m telling you. Dallas has amnesia, but we forgot too. We forgot the giant birds. It took his amnesia for us to realize that.”

                “For you to realize that,” said Jace.

                “You’ll remember too,” said Tegan. “Go back through your memories, I bet there’ll be giant birds in some of them. They’re hard to miss.” She smiled.

                “I’m assuming you didn’t come to me first,” said Jace. “What did Manny say about this?”

                “He said not to tell you about it,” said Tegan. “He said you wouldn’t believe me and wouldn’t remember. He said you’d laugh at us.”

                “What do you mean ‘us?’” asked Jace.

                “He remembered a giant bird too,” said Tegan. “He actually remembered a lot of them. He’s had a lot of run-ins with giant birds.” Her face became grave. “His grandparents were actually recently killed by giant birds.”

                “His grandparents died in a fire in their RV,” said Jace.

                “No,” said Tegan. “It was giant birds. A flock of them.”

                Jace threw his covers back and got out of bed giving no thought to the unattractiveness of his upper torso or his lower torso, which was actually even less attractive. Wearing flannel pajama pants with empty golf tees printed on them, Jace walked past Tegan and went out into the hall. Manny’s light was off in his room but his door was cracked open. Jace knocked on it. “Manny?”

                Manny’s voice came back out of the dark room. “What?”

                “Tegan says you remember a bunch of giant birds,” said Jace.

                “Yeah,” said Manny. He sighed. “I guess I do.”

                “You guess?”

                “I do,” said Manny. “Like, a lot of them.” His voice cracked. “They killed my grandparents.”

                Jace turned and saw Tegan standing behind him in the hall. She was looking at him with concern. “So I’m the one with problems now?” asked Jace.

                “Just one problem,” said Tegan. “And we had the same problem until, like, a couple hours ago.”

                “All right,” said Jace. “Let’s look up giant birds on the internet right now.”

                “We did that,” said Tegan. “It’s just a bunch of cryptozoology and conspiracy theory stuff.”

                “Maybe that should tell you something,” said Jace.

                Manny’s light came on and he opened his door. His bare torso put Jace’s bare torso to shame as usual. “It’s because we can’t remember what it’s called,” said Manny. “That’s why we can’t find it online. As soon as what the giant bird’s called comes back to us, we’ll show you online.”

                “I’m going back to bed,” said Jace.

                The sound of a key entering the lock came from the apartment’s front door. The door opened and Dallas walked through it.

                “Dallas!” said Tegan, running to him, hugging him. “I remember a giant bird! I can’t remember what it’s called, but Manny remembers it too! But he can’t remember what it’s called either.”

                Manny walked over to Dallas and they did some kind of multi-stage fist bump that Jace had never seen them or anyone do before. “Where have you been?” asked Manny.

                “My parents were worried,” said Dallas. “They wanted me to stay with them until I got better. Or at least until I remembered them. But they’re fine now. They know I’m getting better so they’re very relieved.”

                “You remembered them?” asked Tegan.

                “A little bit,” said Dallas. “I remembered one of those giant birds disrupting a big family wedding when I was a kid and I’m pretty sure those people were there. My parents, I mean.”

                “And that was a real memory?” asked Manny.

                “Well, they said it wasn’t,” said Dallas. “They said it couldn’t be real because of the giant bird. But then, later, they remembered some giant birds, so they figured I was right and they were wrong.”

                “But did they remember the wedding?” asked Jace.

                Dallas, Tegan, and Manny all turned to look at Jace. Dallas’s face was the least hostile of the three. “Have you remembered any giant birds yet?” he asked.

                “No,” said Jace. “I guess I’m the only one, huh?”

                “Maybe that should tell you something,” said Tegan, relishing the opportunity to throw his own words back at him but with emphasis added at her discretion.

                Jace didn’t like how quickly Tegan and Manny had gone from thinking Dallas was crazy to being hesitant to admit that they remembered giant birds to being hostile toward Jace for not remembering giant birds. Tegan and Dallas’s parents remembering giant birds made some sense to Jace. Well, it didn’t make sense, but he thought he could explain it. They wanted Dallas to be in the process of getting better, so they had changed their own memories to accommodate that idea. It was probably subconscious. But Manny had been the most skeptical of the fact that Dallas even had amnesia at all. And if he really was competing with Dallas for Tegan’s affections, it would seem like he had a vested interest in not falling in line with this giant bird thing. Maybe he was just going along with it because he saw how important it was to Tegan and he didn’t want to be on the wrong side of this issue? Whatever was going on, Jace didn’t have the energy to fight his way through the combined resistance of Dallas, Tegan, and Manny. If there was one thing he hated doing, it was trying to change the minds of people who already believed what they wanted to believe. Except in the case of the letter he’d written to Dr. Gharum about the new Gamefervor shirts policy. Sometimes there were issues that were important enough to drive Jace to action. This issue was not yet that important. It would either blow over on its own or they’d all need treatment from trained psychologists. Either way, Jace figured he wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep, so he decided to do some drawings for his video game idea to take his mind off of the mutating memories of his friends.

 

                Jace was eight years old. He was being babysat by Mrs. Fonen, his usual babysitter. She had permed hair and she talked about perms a lot. She sometimes called them “permanents,” but she didn’t pronounce all the letters, so it sounded like “permnt” when she said it. Jace was sitting by the window, bored. Mrs. Fonen had stricter standards about how much TV Jace was allowed to watch than his own parents did, but when Jace complained to his parents, they just said she was old-fashioned and refused to intervene on his behalf to secure more TV time for him. Out the window, Jace watched as the neighbor lady who had just moved in hung wet beach towels on a crooked clothesline. Then, out of the sky, a giant bird descended and attempted to land on the clothesline, crushing it. Then it flew away with the clothesline dangling in its talons. Jace turned to Mrs. Fonen. “Did you see that?”

                “See what?” asked Mrs. Fonen.

                “It came out of the sky and crushed the neighbors’ clothesline. Then it flew away with it.”

                “What did?” asked Mrs. Fonen.

                Then Jace answered her. He told her what the giant bird was called, he told her the name of the giant bird. He said it clearly and precisely. The name he said was correct. But what was the name he said?

                No.

 

                Jace was eleven years old. He was riding in a convertible with his older cousin. It was the first time he’d ever gone over 100 miles per hour in a car. It was too cold to have the top down but his cousin had put the top down anyway. When Jace saw the needle reach the “100” on the speedometer, he looked straight up. He saw them circling up there, going in and out of the massive cumulonimbus clouds that would soon unleash a storm. They were giant birds. Giant, giant birds. “Look!” he shouted to his cousin, his voice barely audible over the noise of the speeding car. He pointed straight up. His cousin looked up too, without slowing down, which was very dangerous.

                “Oh, wow,” said Jace’s cousin. “What are they called again?”

                Jace told him, yelling the answer over the noise, screaming it with force and confidence. The name he screamed was correct, but what was the name he screamed?

                No.

 

                Jace was 22 years old. He came home from work and untucked his Gamefervor shirt. He took off his shoes. Tegan and Manny were sitting on the couch looking worried. Jace asked them what was wrong. They told him that Dallas had woken up with amnesia. Jace picked up his shoes and carried them into the hall. The door to Dallas’s room was open, so Jace stopped in the doorway and looked inside. Dallas was on his bed doing something on his phone. A giant bird filled the rest of the room. It looked far too big to have come in through the door and Dallas’s bedroom window was even smaller. The giant bird appeared to be asleep. Or else it had gone into a meditative state in an attempt to cope with the stress of being crammed into such a small room. Jace greeted Dallas and Dallas asked Jace who he was. Jace told Dallas that he was his roommate and his name was Jace. Then he asked Dallas how the giant bird had gotten into his room, but he didn’t use the term “giant bird,” he used the giant bird’s specific name, its common name, the name by which everyone knew it. He said it very casually. He didn’t have to think about it, he didn’t pause or hesitate, it just dropped right off of his tongue with no effort whatsoever. He said, “How did this” – and then he used the name – “get into your room?” But what was the name he used?

                No.

 

                Jace was losing. He was almost defeated. And not even working on video game ideas could save him. He had always heard artists pompously talking about how they would turn negativity into art or how pursuing their art had saved them from being serial killers or committing suicide, but he hadn’t been able to turn his fight against the Gamefervor shirt policy into great art and now that his own memories were being invaded by giant birds, that wasn’t helping him produce great art either. He looked down at the notebook open on his lap. The giant bird’s beak was crooked and it looked cross-eyed. Jace was embarrassed to even admit to himself that he’d drawn it. He was about to scribble over the drawing, tear it from his notebook, wad it up, and hurl it into the clutter corner, but he stopped.

                Instead of scribbling on the drawing of the giant bird, Jace wrote over its head in arching block letters: “The Common Giant Fake Hawk.”

                And that was it. That was its name. Jace’s mind rifled back through his memories that contained Common Giant Fake Hawks, and in each one, when the moment in the memory came where he uttered the name “Common Giant Fake Hawk,” the Common Giant Fake Hawks disappeared, expunged from his past, stricken from the record. Was Common Giant Fake Hawk the giant bird’s name? Or had Jace thwarted the giant bird by naming it?

                “Hey guys,” said Jace, strolling out into the living room. He had put on a shirt to hide the entirety of his unattractive torso.

                Dallas, Tegan, and Manny were scattered around the living room. They all had mugs of hot cocoa or coffee or something in their hands. They were all so relaxed, so at ease with each other, so unified. Steam wafted upward from their mugs. They were all holding their mugs with both hands, self-consciously cozy expressions on their faces.

                “Hey…guy,” said Dallas. “Do you remember the giant birds yet?”

                “Well, I did,” said Jace. “But then I remembered their name. What they’re called.”

                “No, you didn’t,” said Dallas. He looked worried.

                “What is it?” asked Manny, his voice popping with curiosity.

                “Yeah, tell us!” said Tegan.

                “The Common Giant Fake Hawk,” said Jace.

                The mood in the room crashed, rolled, flipped, exploded in flames. The mood in the room died screaming. Jace could tell by the falling of the assembled faces that everyone knew he was right.

                “You should probably tell your parents too, Dallas,” said Jace. “Not being able to think of the name is probably driving them crazy.”

                “Who?” said Dallas. “Oh, those people from earlier, the older ones, right.”

                “It’s OK, Dallas,” said Tegan, squeezing his shoulder. “You have amnesia.”

                “He’d better,” said Manny. “I’m going to bed.” 

                Back in his room, Jace looked at his drawing of the Common Giant Fake Hawk. It was a bad drawing, but maybe he wouldn’t scribble it out, tear it out, wad it up, and throw it in the clutter corner. Maybe he would keep this one. It could be comic relief in the game. Or maybe the whole game could have a less serious tone. Jace decided he would sleep on it and give the drawing another look in the morning. Maybe it would look different to him in a few hours, maybe it would look different to him in the daylight. Maybe, with some time to think, Jace would remember why the giant bird in the drawing looked so familiar.




Discussion Questions

  • What’s the biggest bird you can recall?



  • Go through all of your memories now. Is there anything in any of them that, upon closer inspection, shouldn’t actually be there because it doesn’t exist?



  • What’s the ratio of amnesia cases you’ve encountered in the media you consume to amnesia cases you’ve encountered IRL (In Real Life)?



  • What’s something else that “IRL” could stand for? Make sure your answer is relevant to the story. Don’t try to be funny, please.



  • Make a complete list of the jobs or careers where you would consider it valid for employees to be required to tuck in collared shirts.



  • Trust brain?